Commemorated on April 16
Martyresses Agapia, Irene and Chionia were sisters by birth and they lived
at the end-III Century to beginning-IV Century, near the Italian city of
Aquilea. They were left orphaned at an early age. The young women led a pious
Christian life and they turned down many an offer of marriage. Their spiritual
guide was the priest Xeno. It was revealed to him in a dream-vision, that at a
very soon time he would die, and the holy virgins would suffer martyrdom.
Situated also at Aquilea and having a similar vision was the GreatMartyress
Anastasia (+ c. 304, Comm. 22 December), who is entitled
"Alleviatrix-of-Captives" ("Uzoreshitel'nitsa") because
that she fearlessly made visit to Christians locked up in prison, encouraging
them and helping them. The GreatMartyress Anastasia made visit to the sisters
and urged them to bravely endure for Christ. Soon what was predicted in the
vision came to pass. The priest Xeno died, and the three virgins were arrested
and brought to trial before the emperor Diocletian (284-305).
Seeing the youthful
beauty of the sisters, the emperor urged them to recant from Christ and he
promised to find them illustrious bridegrooms from his entourage. But the holy
sisters answered, that they have only the Heavenly Bridegroom – Christ, for
the faith in Whom they were ready to suffer. The emperor demanded they renounce
Christ, but neither the elder sisters, nor the youngest of them, would consent.
They called the pagan gods mere idols, wrought by human hands, and they
preached faith in the True God.
By order of
Diocletian, who was setting off for Macedonia, the holy sisters were also to be
conveyed there. And they brought them to the court of the governor Dulcetius.
When he saw the
beauty of the holy martyresses, he was aroused with impure passion. He put the
sisters under guard and he informed them, that they would receive their
freedom, if they agreed to fulfill his desires. But the holy martyresses
replied, that they were prepared to die for their Heavenly Bridegroom –
Christ. Then Dulcetius decided secretly by night to have his way by force. When
the holy sisters arose at night and were glorifying the Lord in prayer, Dulcetius
edged up to the door and wanted to enter. But an invisible force struck him, he
lost his senses and staggered away. Unable to find his way out, the torturer on
his way fell down in the kitchen amidst the cooking utensils, the pots and
pans, and he was covered all over with soot. The servants and the soldiers
recognised him only with difficulty. When he saw himself in a mirror, he then
realised, that the holy martyresses had made a fool of him, and he decided to
take his revenge on them.
At his court
Dulcetius gave orders to strip bare the holy martyresses before him. But the
soldiers, no matter how much they tried, were not able to do this: the clothing
as it were clung to the bodies of the holy virgins. And during the time of
trial Dulcetius suddenly fell asleep, and no one was able to rouse him. But
just as they carried him into his house, he immediately awoke.
When they reported to
the emperor Diocletian about everything that had happened, he became angry with
Dulcetius and he gave the holy virgins over for trial to Sisinius. This one
began his interrogation with the youngest sister, Irene. Having convinced himself
of her unyielding, he despatched her to prison and then attempted to sway into
renunciation Saints Chionia and Agapia. But these also it was impossible to
sway into a renunciation of Christ, and Sisinius gave orders that Saints Agapia
and Chionia be burned. The sisters upon hearing the sentence gave up thanks to
the Lord for the crowns of martyrdom. And in the fire Agapia and Chionia
prayerfully expired to the Lord.
When the fire went
out, everyone saw, that the bodies of the holy martyresses and their clothing
had not been scorched by the fire, and their faces were beautiful and peaceful,
like people quietly asleep. On the day following Sisinius gave orders to bring
Saint Irene to court. He threatened her with the fate of her older sisters and
he urged her to renounce Christ, and then he began to threaten to hand her over
for defilement in an house of ill repute. But the holy martyress answered:
"Let my body be given over for forceful defilement, but my soul will never
be defiled by renunciation of Christ".
When the soldiers of
Sisinius led Saint Irene to the house of ill repute, two luminous soldiers
overtook them and said: "Your master Sisinius commands you to take this
virgin to an high mountain and leave her there, and then return to him and
report to him about fulfilling the command". And the soldiers did so. When
they reported back to Sisinius about this, he flew into a rage, since he had
given no such orders. The luminous soldiers were Angels of God, saving the holy
martyress from defilement. Sisinius with a detachment of soldiers set off to
the mountain and saw Saint Irene on its summit. For a long while they searched
for the way to the top, but they could not find it. Then one of the soldiers
wounded Saint Irene with an arrow from his bow. The martyress cried out to
Sisinius: "I do mock thine impotent malice, and pure and undefiled I do
expire to my Lord Jesus Christ". Having given up thanks to the Lord, she
lay down upon the ground and gave up her spirit to God, on the very day of Holy
Pascha (+ 304).
Anastasia learned about the end of the holy sisters and reverently she buried
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.